Phytoplankton, light, and nutrients in a gradient of mixing depths: field experiments

Phytoplankton, light, and nutrients in a gradient of mixing depths: field experiments
Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication

Diehl S, Berger S, Ptacnik R, Wild A

ISBN Number

We studied the effects of water column mixing depth and background turbidity on phytoplankton biomass, light climate, and nutrients in two field enclosure experiments designed to test predictions of a dynamical model. In 1997 and 1998, we created gradients of mixing depth by enclosing the 100-μm-filtered phytoplankton community of a phosphorus-deficient lake in cylindrical plastic bags of varying depth (1.5-15 m) which were continuously mixed. To mimic different levels of background turbidity, we surrounded the transparent enclosure walls with a layer of opaque white (1997) or black (1998) plastic. The experiments were run for 4 wk (1997) and 6 wk (1998). The results supported two key assumptions of the model: specific production and specific sedimentation losses both decreased with increasing mixing depth. At all mixing depths, fast-sinking diatoms dominated the communities. In accordance with model predictions, algal biomass concentration and standing stock (summed over the mixed layer) showed a unimodal relationship to mixing depth when background turbidity was high (1998). When background turbidity was lower (1997), only the ascending limbs of the corresponding relationships were found, which supports the prediction that the mixing depth at which biomass peaks (i.e., becomes predominantly limited by light) increases with decreasing background turbidity. Also in accordance with predictions, light intensity at the bottom of the mixed layer decreased with increasing mixing depth and with increasing background turbidity. Finally, the data supported only the ascending limbs of the predicted inverse unimodal relationships among mixing depth and dissolved inorganic and total water column phosphorus. The absence of descending limbs in these relationships at low mixing depths was probably due to deviations of the experimental systems from two model assumptions. First, the remineralization rate of sedimented phosphorus may have been too slow to equilibrate with sedimentation losses over the experimental periods. Second, biomass yield per unit nutrient (the ratio of seston carbon to phosphorus) was not constant, but decreased with increasing mixing depth. To our knowledge, these are the first field experiments in which the effects of mixing depth on phytoplankton and its resources have been investigated systematically along a large gradient.

Date of Published
Accession Number
Type of Article
Alternate Journal